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God of Steadfast Love

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Wally felt Jim’s hand on his shoulder, its weight keeping him grounded, reminding him where he was and what was about to happen. Slowly, he drew in a steadying breath and lifted his head.

 

The last strokes of midday died away on the old grandfather clock, and the congregation rose as one. He was barely conscious of them, the friends and family who had gathered from far and wide to see Billabong’s daughter and adoptive son married. All his mind was fixed on the double doors at the opposite end of the long room. 

 

Old Andy Ferguson started to play, a triumphant Irish tune filtering through underneath the Bridal Chorus. It was almost predictable, really — the fiddler would be a loyal Irishman to the end, despite his many years in Australia. 

 

Slowly, the double doors began to swing wide, allowing the master of Billabong to gain access, his daughter on his arm. And for the first time since their misadventure in the lagoon earlier, Wally laid eyes on his bride, and all coherent thought fled.

 

Norah was considerably cleaner than she had been an hour previously, clothed in a simple white gown, brown hair caught back into a bun, her face on display. At first she did not seem to notice him, smiling side to side, silently thanking the congregation for their attendance. 

 

Then she saw him, and her smile was brighter than the sun, grey eyes twinkling silver. Everything else fell away as she drew nearer yet. Wally could not remember ever experiencing the emotions that washed through him to such an extent as he did now: love, pride, awe, and happiness beyond compare.

 

She reached him, and he took a step forward, cutting his eyes briefly to David Linton, who had taken Norah’s hand in his own. “Look after her,” the older man said softly, relinquishing his daughter’s hand so Wally could grasp it. The younger man gave David a nod, before returning his gaze to Norah.

 

For a moment they stilled, each taking in the appearance of the other, and Wally lifted her hand, pressing his lips to the back of it. “You look beautiful.”

 

“You don’t clean up too badly yourself,” she teased him softly, tanned cheeks blushing slightly. “Ready to do this?” 

 

“Always,” was his light response, turning towards Mr Carrington, feeling his bride’s arm wrap through his, her hand resting on his wrist. He could feel the slight tremble in it, and his other hand came up to cover it, reassuring her. 

 

The clergyman smiled at them, before resting his gaze on the congregation beyond, behind the young couple. “Dearly beloved, we have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honoured among all people. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.

 

“Into this holy union Walter Richard Meadows and Norah Mary Linton now come to be joined. If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now; or else for ever hold your peace.”

 

There was silence. In his heart Wally could feel anticipation building, and nervousness lest something should go wrong at the very moment they could not afford it to. 

 

“I require and charge you both,” Mr Carrington started, now addressing the bride and groom, “here in the presence of God, that if either of you know any reason why you may not be united in marriage lawfully, and in accordance with God’s Word, you do now confess it.”

 

Again, there was silence. Norah’s hand, which had stilled, now trembled again, and he realised that her nervousness was equal to his own, knowing what was coming. Now was the time to pledge themselves to one another, for evermore. 

 

“Norah Mary, will you have this man to be your husband, to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honour and obey him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him so long as you both shall live?”

 

Her voice was steady. “I will.”

 

“Walter Richard, will you have this woman to be your wife, to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honour and cherish her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her so long as you both shall live?”

 

He had been ready for this for months, and there was a note of triumph in his tone. “I will.” 

 

Mr Carrington lifted both hands, addressing the congregation now. “Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?” 

 

The response was quick, the congregation speaking as one. “We will.”

 

Here the next order of the proceeding was to sing a hymn. Having been in the church choir when she was younger, Norah had chosen And did those feet (Jerusalem), and all in the drawing-room sang with gusto, the bridal couple sharing a typed program handed to them by Jean.

 

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountains green?

And was the Holy Lamb of God

On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

 

And did the Countenance Divine,

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here, 

Amongst these dark Satanic mills? 

 

Bring me my bow of burning gold! 

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear: O, clouds unfold! 

Bring me my chariot of fire.

 

I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand.

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green and pleasant Land.

 

Jim came forward as the congregation sat, pulling out of his pocket a scrap of paper, on which was hastily scrawled his reading. Wally grinned, remembering his friend tearing his bedroom apart the night before for a pen to copy it from the Bible, not wanting to hold that large object for the duration of the ceremony. 

 

“The first reading,” Jim announced, fighting to keep himself from smiling, “is from the book of Genesis, chapter one, verses twenty-six to thirty-one.

 

“Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." 

 

“God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” 

 

He withdrew, breathing a sigh of relief. Jim Linton was not a man prone to enjoying public speaking, even at school refraining from doing so unless called upon in his role as School Captain. 

 

Wally and Norah turned to one another, grasping one another’s hands, eyes meeting. Wally could not prevent his face from breaking out into a smile, and Norah met it with her own. 

 

“I, Walter Richard, take you, Norah Mary, to be my wife: to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish and honour, so long as we both shall live. All this I vow and promise.” 

 

Now it was Norah’s turn. “I, Norah Mary, take you, Walter Richard, to be my husband: to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish and obey, so long as we both shall live. All this I vow and promise.” 

 

Under his breath, Wally snickered. You said it, he mouthed to Norah, who squeezed his hands warningly, a twinkle of mischief in her grey eyes. Don’t deny it, he added, seeing in his peripheral vision Jim and Jean approaching, before the clergyman spoke again.

 

“God of steadfast love, by your blessing, let these rings be for Walter and Norah a symbol of their love and faithfulness through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

 

And then Jim was handing Wally the ring which he had long ago chosen in Melbourne for Norah, a slim silver band inlaid with ten tiny diamonds, one for each year of their acquaintance thus far: small enough for her to work with, but meaningful enough that she would understand. “With this ring,” he said, lifting her left hand, “I thee wed; with my body, I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods, I thee endow. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” 

 

She smiled down at the ring on her slender fourth finger as if it were all she had ever wanted in the world, before holding out a hand to Jean, who placed in it another ring. This one Wally had not seen, and he gave her his left hand, watching her slide on an equally slim plain gold band. “With this ring, I thee wed; with my body, I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods, I thee endow. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

 

They grasped hands again, and then Mr Carrington said, “Before God and in the presence of us all, Walter and Norah have joined hands and made their solemn vows, promising life-long faithfulness to each other. In the name of God, I declare them to be husband and wife. What God has joined together, let no one separate. God the Father lovingly enfold you, God the Son grace your home and table, God the Holy Spirit crown you with joy and peace. The Lord bless you and keep you in eternal life. Amen.”

 

To Wally he said, smiling, “You may now kiss the bride.” 

 

Gently, Wally drew her towards him, kissing her for the first time as his wife. They broke apart, foreheads touching, and she smiled at him as though he were the only person in the world who mattered. 

 

There was applause from the congregation, while Jim found a chair which had been sitting to one side, placing it in front of a table near the altar, adding a pen to lay on top of papers the clergyman produced. Wally helped Norah sit down, hearing in his ears the faint strains of Andy Ferguson’s fiddle playing Ave Maria

 

First they signed the certificate of registry, Norah stumbling ever so slightly on the signature bearing her new name, before signing the certificate which they would keep afterward, and finally the certificate which Mr Carrington would take back with him to be put in the Cunjee church. Here, Jim and Jean acted as witnesses.

 

They returned to the front, Jean receiving another scrap of paper from Jim, being unable in her gown to possess anything other than her bouquet of flowers — and Norah’s — both of which she transferred to one hand, the paper in the other, preparing to lead the prayers.

 

“God of Abraham and Sarah, bless these your servants, and sow the seed of eternal life in their hearts, that whatever they learn in your Holy Word they may indeed fulfil. Look in love upon them, and bless them, that, obeying your will and secure in your protection, they may abide in your love to their lives’ end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

 

Jim possessed himself once more of the paper, stuffing it in his pocket, as the clergyman led the congregation and the wedding party in the traditional Lord’s Prayer. 

 

“Our Father, who art in Heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, 

thy will be done, 

on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread, 

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,

for ever and ever.

Amen.” 

 

Everyone stood for the final hymn, Wally and Norah once again sharing a program. This hymn was especially important to both, as it made mention of the importance of mothers: Wally’s had died when he was very young, and Norah’s mother’s grave had long been green since the year of Norah’s birth. 

 

Now thank we all our God, 

with heart and hands and voices, 

who wondrous things has done, 

in whom this world rejoices; 

who from our mothers' arms 

has blessed us on our way 

with countless gifts of love, 

and still is ours today. 

 

O may this bounteous God 

through all our life be near us, 

with ever joyful hearts 

and blessed peace to cheer us; 

and keep us still in grace, 

and guide us when perplexed; 

and free us from all ills, 

in this world and the next. 

 

All praise and thanks to God 

the Father now be given; 

the Son, and him who reigns 

with them in highest heaven; 

the one eternal God, 

whom earth and heaven adore; 

for thus it was, is now, 

and shall be evermore. 

 

Now was the time for the final blessing, and the congregation remained standing. “The Lord bless you and keep you,” Mr Carrington started, “the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and give you peace. Amen.” 

 

Andy Ferguson raised his bow to his fiddle again, starting to play the famed Wedding March from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Norah slipped one arm through Wally’s, as he received a handshake from Jim on his left, Norah being kissed on the cheek by Jean, the latter returning the bride’s bouquet to her. Wally and Norah smiled at each other once more, utterly content in their supreme happiness. “Ready?” he asked her.

 

“Always,” she replied, and they started to make their way down the aisle, thanking their guests as they passed, all of whom were smiling, with not even Laura Meadows nor Eva Linton able to remain put-out. 

 

And when they stopped to hug Brownie before passing on, no-one thought it queer.